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|Santa Monica City Council Approves Affordable Housing Ordinance|
By Gene Williams
February 9, 2011 -- Developers now have clearer guidelines for building affordable housing in Santa Monica, under an ordinance approved Tuesday by the City Council.
The new ordinance codifies most of the provisions of a 2006 interim ordinance which eases building restrictions for projects that include deed-restricted, low and moderate income housing units. The interim ordinance was set to expire after having been extended for the maximum 4 years.
Like the interim measure, the new ordinance keeps Santa Monica in compliance with California law, which requires municipalities to grant concessions to builders as an incentive to create affordable units.
But unlike the interim measure, the new ordinance only covers the City’s residential neighborhoods. Guidelines for affordable housing construction in commercial and industrial areas are covered under the City’s 2010 Land Use and Circulation Element (LUCE) update.
Also because of the LUCE – which calls for wider sidewalks -- the new ordinance cancels a provision that allowed front-yard set backs to be reduced by as much as 15 percent under the interim measure.
Included in the new ordinance is clearer language that will streamline the project approval process and give builders a better understanding of the rules, City officials say.
As an incentive to builders, the City relaxes certain zoning standards and grants “density bonuses” to allow construction projects with affordable housing to build more units than would otherwise be permitted under City code.
For example, a developer who decides to add affordable housing to plans for a 4-unit condo project would receive a density bonus of 35 percent – bonus points worth 1.4 additional units.
But because the ordinance rounds all fractions up to the nearest whole number, the bonus actually translates into 2 additional units – a total of 6 units for the project, of which 1 must be set aside for low-income households.
To achieve the increased density, the ordinance allows the project to build on 10 percent more lot space and to reduce side yard and back yard set-backs by as much as 15 percent. Some parking requirements are also eased.
Santa Monica is committed to creating and sustaining space for low and moderate income households, which is why its standards exceed those mandated under State law, City officials say.
While State law typically requires developers seeking density bonuses to set aside 10 percent of their units for low-income households, Santa Monica requires developers to set aside 20 percent.
Percentages that must be set aside to receive credits for building very-low income and moderate income housing are similarly higher in Santa Monica as well.
Although the ordinance elicited hardly any discussion at Tuesday’s meeting, two residents of the Pico neighborhood complained that their voices were largely ignored by the City during the weeks of gathering public input.
Catherine Eldridge of the Pico Neighborhood Association (PNA) seemed to feel that her organization had not been taken seriously.
“We were reportedly overlooked,” said Eldridge, referring to answers PNA received from City officials.
Councilmember Kevin McKeown and Mayor Richard Bloom asked staff to look into their complaints.
After only a few minutes of deliberation, council passed the ordinance with a unanimous 7 votes.
Since the adoption of the first interim ordinance in 2006, 41 of the 46 units built in the city’s residential neighborhoods are deed-restricted affordable housing.
In addition, another 30 projects with a total of 265 units – of which about 80 units would be deed-restricted – are in the planning stages.
Four other projects that are 100 percent affordable housing with a total of 78 units are also on paper.
But it’s not clear how quickly these plans will proceed, as the current economic downturn has slowed construction throughout the region, state and the nation.
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